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Oceania/Polynesia Creation Myths

by Daphne Elliott
In the mythology of Oceanic peoples, Forever has always existed. So has Darkness, and so, too, the Sea. Soaring over the endless sea, The Old Spider fond a giant clam and opened it and crawled inside. It was totally dark, and cramped inside but she found a snail, whom she asked to open the shell a bit so she could have more room.

The snail obliged. Then the Old Spider took the snail and placed it in the west and made it into the Moon, shedding some light into the darkness. With the help of another snail, The Old Spider pushed very hard on the top of the shell, raising it up, and it became the Sky, called Rangi.

With great effort, the Old Spider then pushed down on the lower part of the clam shell, and it widened and became the earth. The earth was called Papa, or Mother Earth. This basic myth of creation is told roughout Oceania, from two different points of view: One, a supreme deity (Po or Io) creates everything; in the other, a mythical entity (the Old Spider) or a goddess (Lukelong) creates the heavens and then the earth.

At any rate, heavens, earth, sea are created in the beginning, together with Papa Earth and Rangi Sky, in a very tight space. This tight space is enlarged either by the deity (Tangaroa, Tanaoa, etc.) or by Rangi and Papa. Light is let in, the clam is widened and creation proceeds.

First, Papa and Rangi produce plants and flowers, trees and shrubs; then animals of every sort, with birds and butterflies in the air and fish in the sea around them. On some islands, the mythology recounts that the earth was created from the sea - by a butterfly. On others, a rock fell from the sky into the sea, and created the earth.

Papa Earth was a goddess, and Rangi Sky, a god, sister and brother. They cohabited and produced the first ancestors of all mankind. They also produced the principal gods. Chiefs throughout Polynesia and Oceania trace their ancestry today to the bloodlines of Papa and Rangi.

After their first cohabitation, any such action of a subsequent sister and brother became a strict tabu punishable by death, to protect the tribe against the consequences of incest. This coupling of Papa and Rangi was explained as being for enrichment of the deities' bloodline (mana, power) but further than one generation, it weakened and diluted the bloodline, thus making such action a fatal error (tabu). This tabu strengthened the power of the chiefs, and ensured the flourishing of subsequent generations.

It was still very crowded in the clam shell, what with all the animals, plants, and offspring. Their children knew it would be next-to-impossible to separate Papa Earth from her beloved Rangi Sky, but they were desperate. They called upon Kane, the gentle god of the forests to do the pushing, and with great effort Kane was able to do so, and the whole inhabitants, plants, people and gods were finally released from the crowded clam shell.

They rejoiced at the new spaciousness, providing room to flourish, but Rangi and Papa were saddened to be separated. He weeps every night for his Papa Earth, and these tears are the source of the morning dew.


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